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The Universal Spider: King Louis XI

The “Universal Spider” was the nickname given to King Louis XI of France, based on his ability to spin plots and entrap his enemies.

He was born on 3rd July 1423 in the town of Bourges and became the French king on 22nd July 1461, succeeding his father King Charles VII. He reigned for 22 years.

He was never going to be a popular monarch, being fat and ugly, and he was a devious and suspicious man, despite being shrewd and intelligent. He managed to make enemies of just about everyone in sight, which might have sounded like a recipe for an ultra-short reign, but he was able to worm his way out of trouble on every occasion.

King Edward IV of England invaded France in 1475, but instead of facing the English on the battlefield, Louis invited Edward and his army captains to a meeting that consisted of three days of sumptuous banquets and entertainment. He then proposed a peace treaty that offered Edward a pension in exchange for recognizing Louis’s claim to the whole of France.

Louis later said that he had chased the English of France more easily than his father had been able to do, but instead of force of arms his weapons had been venison pies and good wine.

Louis thus made the French monarchy more powerful than it had been for around 150 years, and told his barons “I am France”. He once expressed this by saying “When I want to know what France thinks, I ask myself”.

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